Chester Planning Commission moves toward regulating short-term rentals

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

With a growing number of homes in the area being used as short-term rentals booked through such organizations as Airbnb and VRBO, the question of whether such a use should be regulated and even restricted has become a hot topic for area select boards and planning commissions. On Tuesday night, Chester’s Planning Commission weighed in on the subject by considering a draft ordinance that would require such rentals to be registered and meet some health and safety standards.

Vermont State Law allows municipalities to “regulate by means of an ordinance or bylaw the operation of short-term rentals within the municipality” and defines short term rentals as “a furnished house, condominium, or other dwelling room or self-contained dwelling unit rented to the transient, traveling, or vacationing public for a period of fewer than 30 consecutive days and for more than 14 days per calendar year.”

The Planning Commission listens to resident Bill Lindsay speak about the need for senior housing. Image via Zoom

At its June 20 meeting, the commission discussed at length the issues surrounding the proliferation of these rentals, including the effects on the long-term rental and housing market, health and safety,  neighborhood character and the possible positive effect of attracting tourists.

Commission chairman Hugh Quinn said he didn’t think there was an option to do nothing, but wondered what the appropriate level of regulation would be. Quinn said he thought a registry of short-term rentals would be a good first step if the commission wanted to take a “crawl, walk, run” approach to handling the situation. The registry would be similar to the one used by Killington which was created by Chester Zoning Administrator Preston Bristow.

Commission member Peter Hudkins – who owns a short-term rental – suggested an annual fee of $300 and the panel then discussed using a portion of that money to hire a company that monitors compliance with municipal regulations by searching the websites of companies that market and book such rentals. For example, a town could limit the number of people who can stay in a particular house based on number of bedrooms and septic capacity. The monitoring company then could see if the house was being marketed for more guests than allowed and send a letter to the owner noting the violation. The company could also see if there was a house in town being marketed that was not on the registry.

On July 5, the commission took a look at the draft ordinance  the purpose of which, the document states, is “to promote and protect the public health, safety, welfare, and convenience of the town, to preserve residents’ rights to quiet enjoyment of homes and properties, and to ensure the safety of occupants of short-term rentals.”

The draft ordinance would require an annual registration of short-term rentals including:

  • The number of guests allowed in the rental based on the number of bedrooms. Rentals would be allowed two guests per bedroom plus an additional two guests. A three-bedroom home could host a maximum of eight. Those properties that would allow eight or fewer guests could “self certify” the number of bedrooms while a property hosting more than eight would have to provide proof of the number of bedrooms through a septic permit or for older homes lister information.
  • A fire and safety inspection (more than eight guests) or self-certification on an inspection form. See the self certification form here.
  • Posting of contact information. State statute requires the contact telephone for the person responsible for the rental unit as well as the Department of Health and the Division of Fire Safety.
  • Self certification of health and safety measures. See link for that form above.
  • Proof of liability insurance.

The ordinance also provides a schedule of fines for violations including operating without registering.

A few of the short term rentals in Chester listed on Airbnb

Bristow presented the draft to the board paragraph by paragraph noting that it follows what he called the “Killington Criteria” with portions changed to fit the needs of Chester.  He said that once the commission has weighed in on the document it should go to town attorney Jim Carroll for a review before being sent to the Select Board for a hearing.

Bristow said that he thought that the commission needed to write down why the registry and regulation is needed and present that to the Select Board.  He said he questioned whether the ordinance was necessary but in looking at the data he noticed that 8 percent of the housing stock in Chester is in short-term rental.

Commission member Barre Pinske said he was concerned about local residents who are renting out a portion of their homes to make ends meet and he wanted to make sure they know about this as it goes to the Select Board.

Asked about enforcement, Bristow said he was the person empowered to hand out tickets for violations and that he had registered with the court and received his ticket book, which he finds “a bit scary.” He also said that Chester Police have said they would help him work through the legal intricacies of writing tickets that won’t get thrown out in court.

The commission will review the document again at its Monday, Aug. 1 meeting before sending it to the Select Board for a public hearing.

‘Workshop’ to update zoning regulations

The commission is restarting its update of the town’s zoning regulations – known as Unified Development Bylaws – and will be holding a series of workshops to gather information from residents and property owners. The first of these will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, July 18 at Town Hall and via Zoom. The Zoom link for the session is


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  1. Raymond Makul says:

    There are over 20 dwelling units in Andover listed on Airbnb and Vrbo. On my road, I see pedestrians and autos never seen before, and after a few days, never seen again. Andover has no police, no fire department nor an ambulance service. We do not have the service infrastructure to support such an industry.

    My road has one property that is on Google Maps as a venue for weddings and large gatherings. A new “log cabin” was recently constructed, and it is listed for short term rentals, strictly a rental property.

    Out of state owners are buying up properties not for their own use, but as income short term rental properties. And we have no tourist attractions in Andover that benefit from the presence of tourists. But we do have potential working class people being priced out of the community, and long term residents seeing their property tax assessments inflating due to speculators buying up properties.

  2. Nicholas Boke says:

    The proposal does not include anything–as far as I can tell–about the impact of the proliferation of short-term rentals on the broader housing market, including rentals. This connection has been discussed on the state-wide level and is alluded to in the article: “…including the effects on the long-term rental and housing market.”

    Even if this is not yet seen as having an impact on the Chester housing and rental markets, it seems to me that a more in-depth discussion of this connection is merited.

  3. Hi John,
    The state statute (18 vsa 4301) under definitions says that (9) “Lodging establishment” means a place where overnight accommodations are regularly provided to the transient, traveling, or vacationing public, including hotels, motels, inns, and bed and breakfasts. “Lodging establishment” shall not include short-term rentals.

    So the registry and any regulations of short-term rentals should not affect you. And presumably lodging establishments already are subject to much more stringent regulation and inspection than short-term rentals under the state law.

  4. John Winter says:

    We operate a small, traditional B&B, and a beautiful wedding venue. As a previous commenter noted, we encourage our guests to visit local shops and restaurants and provide recommendations. We went through the full zoning process in order to operate fully aboveboard. While we appreciate the concern about STRs that do not comply with local codes and ordinances, I am uncomfortable with the tone implied and the idea of extra fees for businesses that may work on very small margins. Also, who exactly is covered by this? Existing inns and hotels? Incorporated businesses and LLCs?

  5. Polly Montgomery says:

    I have been reading about the attention to short term rentals in Vermont at the state and town level. It will be important that short term rental (STR)owners are apprised of steps being taken so that we may provide input and are not blind sided by regulations.

    My husband and I recently purchased a home in Chester having moved from Rockingham. As a retired couple, we wanted to be part of village life here in Chester. We renovated the property extensively and now live in it and use a part of it for family, guests, and short term rental. The STR income helps pay our taxes. Our property was a long term rental before we purchased it and was in terrible condition. Like many who have purchased homes to use for short term rental, we are very careful to keep our property attractive, up to code and in good repair.

    One of the pluses of STRs in a town is that they are generally well maintained and add charm to the neighborhood. Another advantage is the amount of tourist dollars brought into the community. Our guests ask where to eat, shop and dine. We love giving suggestions! Tourists love visiting Vermont and enjoying all that it has to offer.

    Short Term Rentals support all of this. As you look around, there are not that many other options for weekend lodging in the Chester area. Let’s be a welcoming community and wave at the visitors who stroll by on the sidewalks, shop at Smitty’s or cycle by on their way up the road. And thank those who host them in their homes.

  6. Kathleen Vize says:

    A first time registration fee should be much higher than $300. Start with $5,000 which can be earmarked for potential problems these units may cause the Town, as well as helping pay for any additional help required to monitor or enforce laws pertaining to them.

    Self-reporting is a fox guarding the henhouse. Having come from an area where unscrupulous property owners have changed the interiors of their homes to accommodate more guests or tenants there is a very real possibility that out-of-state ‘investors’ might be doing the same with their properties in Chester. Limiting the number of guests/occupancy sounds like a great idea, but when interiors have been altered and no town official has actually inspected the property — how can this be confirmed? A quick AirBnB search shows one Chester house with 3 bedrooms sleeping 9.

    What is the town’s liability if someone is injured or dies in a fire in a carved up house? What if someone lies about their smoke and CO alarms? Shouldn’t those safety measures (in the very least) be addressed by a code requiring the be hardwired?

    I’m sorry that I have many questions. I also share a general concern about the safety of guests as well as well as investors scooping up housing for STRs, driving up housing costs for people looking for year-round homes.